Preah Vihear Wildlife Officials Threatened: Police

Angry villagers in Preah Vihear province surrounded 16 wildlife sanctuary officials and threatened to torch their vehicles when they tried to shut down a furniture maker on Tuesday in Rovieng district, police said.

The officials had gone to confiscate equipment from a local furniture producer in Phnom Deck village because he was using types of luxury wood, which are illegal to log in Cambodia, district police chief Kaom Siem said Thursday. But when the officials arrived, around 100 villagers turned up with gasoline, Kaom Siem said.

“Villagers were angry, and they wanted to set fire to the trucks if the officials didn’t give back the equipment,” he said. After several hours of negotiations, the officials gave back the equipment and the villagers let them leave unscathed, he added.

The owner of the factory, Larch Phat, 55, was approached by wildlife sanctuary officials about three months ago telling him that his business was illegal, and that he had to close down, said Vun Thoeun, the director of Boeng Per Wild­life Sanctuary.

When officials returned Tuesday, the factory was still operating, he said, adding that the Preah Vihear Provincial Court’s prosecutor had given permission for the raid verbally over the phone, but his officials did not have a written warrant, he said.

“If the furniture shop is allowed to [continue] producing furniture, it will damage the wildlife [sanctuary],” Vun Thoeun said, adding that in Phnom Deck village there are about 10 furniture producers but the one owned by Larch Phat is the largest.

Despite the brush with the gasoline-wielding villagers, Vun Thoeun said the wildlife sanctuary plans to continue with its operations to stop furniture makers from using protected wood.

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